Have you ever wondered how a photographer gets that silky water in a photograph? Before I entered into the world of photography, I couldn’t work out how they did it. Images that captured silky water always drew me in, stirring something deep within my being. Why? To me it calms me, drawing me in to that spot of serenity. However, the same shot that freezes the water, might give off the feeling of power and chaos. The father of landscape photography Ansel Adams says, “you don’t take a photograph, you make it.” So, in the action of taking a photograph the photographer consciously imparts him/herself into it. Thus, they hope to illicit a response, one they were trying to convey through the image. While that may not always be perceived by the viewer, I believe that most of the time it does.
Take for example the two images below, what kind of response do you have? I took both of these images and wished to capture and convey a theme within them. Can you work out what they are?
While both convey power, I feel that one says rage and temper. Whereas the other portrays calm and gentleness. Therefore, when I capture silky water, the majority of time, I wish to convey relaxation, calmness and tranquillity. Also, by adding a background that compliments the composition this will help enhance the final mood of the image. While none of the above shows you how to capture the silky water I do believe your inspiration behind the image determines what process to use. Do you want your final image to have silky water or to freeze the water? We want to capture silky water so let’s go over that process.
Silky Water Process
To capture silky water, a slow shutter speed is required. Therefore, a tripod is essential as any camera movement will cause unwanted blur in the final image. Also, a shutter release cable/remote is preferable but not needed provided you can set your camera to a 2 or 10 second timer to take the shot. A filter could be useful to help darken the scene if it is bright or there is a larger difference in brightness from sky to land. Using an aperture between F/16 to F/22 will allow large depth of field, it will also allow less light through allowing for a slower shutter speed. It is important to use a slow shutter speed as this allows the sensor to capture the movement of the water. The amount of movement you wish to capture will determined the length of time to leave the shutter open.
My preference to capture silky water, is to use the highest aperture (f stop) possible, to allow a shutter speed between ½ a second to 2 seconds so as not to overexpose the highlights. This will vary depending on the speed the water is traveling. I mostly use filters to control the amount of light, thus allowing a slower shutter speed. However, these settings are always open to change depending on how the test shots look. Having been drawn to photography after seeing images of night cityscapes and landscapes showing silky water, I have spent years shooting these types of images. Hence, I now know what camera settings to use to capture the type of image I’m after, when I see the available light and speed the water is flowing. My philosophy is “Like everything in life if you wish to improve you must learn, practise, master and repeat”.
Silky Water Images
Below are some of my favourite silky water images I have taken over the years. Many are of seascapes as I live close to the beach. However, when we travel, I love to photograph waterfalls. So please enjoy.
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